I mentioned recently that Sarah Dessen is on my list of comfort-read-authors. Her books aren't as light as Joan Bauer's, but I still feel safe when I pick one up. I know that she won't throw in some devastating sob-causing twist at the end.
Yes, I admit that I usually do cry at the end of her books, but it's a smiley-weepy-cry, not a heart-wrenching sob. A nice, comfortable cry. Just Listen didn't disappoint. I found myself all teary on the back steps of the library during my lunch break. Rather embarrassing, but I recovered quickly.
Annabel Greene is the youngest of three girls. All three have spent their childhood and teen years modeling -- not horrible Living-Dolls-beauty-pageant-modeling, but wholesome, not-massively-pressured, strong-family-support-network-type-modeling. Well, her two older sisters have eating disorders -- one is recovered and one is in the midst of recovery, but for the most part, Annabel's modeling is not a bad scene:
The director, fresh-faced and just out of film school, had explained to me the concept of this, his creation. "The girl who has everything," he'd said, moving his hands in a tight, circular motion, as if that was all it took to encompass something so vast, not to mention vague. Clearly, it meant having a megaphone, some smarts, and a big group of friends. Now, I might have dwelled on the explicit irony of this last one, but the on-screen me was already moving on.
Of course, just because the modeling isn't hideously painful doesn't mean that Annabel wants to continue with it. So. People see Annabel as "the girl who has everything". Which obviously isn't true:
For a second, we just stared at each other, and I instantly noticed the changes in her: Her curly dark hair was shorter, her earrings new. She was skinnier, if that was possible, and had done away with the thick eyeliner she'd taken to wearing the previous spring, replacing it with a more natural look, all bronzes and pinks. I wondered, in her first glance, what was different in me.
Just as I thought this, Sophie opened her perfect mouth, narrowed her eyes at me, and delivered the verdict I'd spent my summer waiting for.
Annabel isn't into expressing herself. So it takes a long while for her to come clean to the reader -- let alone anyone else -- about what made her best friend hate her. I had it figured out pretty early on -- like by page 25 -- but I don't think it was meant to be a huge shock for the reader. The story isn't a mystery -- it is much more about Annabel finding her voice.
Now. The Boy. Owen Armstrong. He's big. He's quiet. He got into trouble the previous year for punching another boy in the face. (Which is always weirdly attractive to me. It must be some strange evolutionary thing.) He doesn't really talk to anyone. He just moves through his day, headphones in place. At first, I really didn't like him very much. He struck me as pretentious and a bit too... deep. It seemed like he took himself waaaaaaay too seriously. But he improved. By the end, I was a fan. Okay, a big fan.
Just Listen made me want to go on a Sarah Dessen kick. I think I'll save it for summer, though. She writes perfect sunny-weekend-day-sitting-on-the-porch-with-a-pitcher-of-something books.